Labour should bin the expensive overseas consultants and just talk to the British people

by Rhiannon Hughes

Since Thursday’s crushing election defeat for Labour, we’ve seen no end of analysis from figures from Labour’s past and present, giving their take on where the party went so desperately wrong, and what needs to happen next.

And rightly so – it’s a time to re-focus, re-group and learn from our mistakes. Senior figures are talking about direction, approach and policy development, and these are all important elements in moving towards the future.

But we also need to have an honest – and perhaps difficult -conversation about our party’s purpose.

The Labour party needs to exist to serve the people. Our direction should be dictated by the values and philosophy which we all hold dear, but we also need to recognise that Labour should evolve – as it did in 1997 – to best serve the interests of the British people, including those who didn’t vote Labour on Thursday.

Of course, the members, affiliated union colleagues, supporters and party staff who work tirelessly, stuffing envelopes, knocking on doors and travelling the length and breadth of the country to campaign (not just at general election time but year-round) are important. I am a member of both the party and a trade union, and I definitely want a say in the party’s future.

But our numbers alone are not enough to win an election and our priorities aren’t always reflective of the general public’s. We need to accept this and change to win.

Already it looks like this could be something of a stumbling block for the members, activists and even some members of the PLP, who still seem unable to accept that Labour lost the election because too many people at the ballot box simply did not feel that a Labour government would be in their interest.

The first step towards making Labour an outward-looking party which reflects the concerns, fears, hopes and aspirations of the electorate is to acknowledge that Labour lost because of the will of the people. No-one was duped into voting for the Conservatives, SNP or UKIP, and let’s credit voters with a little more intelligence than claim that they were all swayed by the Murdoch press a press that, let’s not forget, we spend much of the Parliament pitting ourselves against.

That means that in order to be successful in rebuilding for the future, the discussions cannot be restricted to the Labour party’s default terms and causes of comfort for us. We need to talk about topics that often make us uneasy rather than treating people with concerns about immigration, benefits and national identity with contempt, hopeful that ignoring these issues will make them go away.

Labour could do worse than to learn a lesson from successful campaigns in isolated seats, where figures like Ian Austin in the marginal seat of Dudley North and Simon Danczuk in Rochdale increased their majorities in the face of UKIP campaigners exploiting sensitive local issues to their advantage. Both received heavy criticism via social media (that veritable echo chamber of political activism that too many in the Labour movement believe has any relevancy to public opinion) accusing them of selling out, pandering to the right and abandoning Labour values to desperately pick up votes.

No-one seemed to consider that they were simply continuing to listen to local people, promising to voice their concerns and push for a solution to them. Hailing from Dudley, and having worked for Austin in the past, it was laughable to see vitriolic tweets levelled at him, ‘calling out’ his nine-year long campaign for the Union flag to be flown from public buildings all year round in a celebration of British values as a desperate ‘RedKip’ promise deployed in the final weeks of this year’s short campaign to shore up a few undecided voters.

The most successful campaigns began in 2010 or earlier, and saw MPs take the time to speak to their constituents, find out their concerns and advocate for them as a strong local voice in Westminster. Politics isn’t rocket-science, and so many activists from across the country would love to have the chance to outline that simple fact to those at the top of the party. Instead, expensive advice from overseas political consultants is sought to the detriment of those who know what is actually happening on the ground. Our activists and campaigners are our strongest weapon – we must use them better to reach out to those who rejected us.

So, as the leadership contest gets underway and we look to the future, Labour should be doing all it can to involve and engage the public – especially those who chose another party on Thursday. Primaries for the leadership elections would be a refreshing start, signalling immediately an ambition to build a Labour Party which can truly be the party of the many, rather than the few during our next five years in opposition and beyond.

Rhiannon Hughes is a former campaign organiser, parliamentary staffer and charity campaigner. She now works as head of public affairs for Stand Agency.

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11 Responses to “Labour should bin the expensive overseas consultants and just talk to the British people”

  1. Madasafish says:

    Laudable though this article may be, I think it’s rather naive.

    Politics is a case of appealing to people who did not vote for you last. Which means stop calling them names.

    Which means disciplining MPs who should set an example…I refer to the former PM “bigots”, Thornberry “white van man” and Abbott “white racism” Lead by example is a good policy.

    And it also means you cannot appeal to everyone. You need to be selective. So you need to think about and quantify whom you are going to target.

    Labour targetted its core vote. Period.

    It needs to target others..

    So you no doubt have the tools and people who can do that? They were not evident in this elections – a byword for how not to do anything. 4 million activists working hard – led by donkeys.

    See Tom Watson’s targetting Sheffield Hallam because “I want to get Clegg”, not because it was winnable. You can’t have that happening.

    You have no professionals and no skills at running an election so you’re going to get rid of the ones you hired? (Or if you had they were not evident.. Ed Stone as a classic case. And Lucy Powell denying it the next day.. A student farce. Pathetic)

    Sounds like a great strategy… for ensuring you are in Opposition in 2021

  2. Madasafish says:

    Further to my previous post, you should read the impact of VERY expensive consultants cane be…

    From the last bit..

    “The Conservatives were using their campaign poll findings to send out reams of direct mail right up to the last day of the campaign to turn undecided, Conservative-inclined voters into definite Conservative supporters. It was not inevitable that they would buy into the Conservative messages but Conservative campaign strategists were confident because they had thoroughly researched the impact of their messaging prior to, and throughout, the campaign. It was a thoroughly professional campaign job with polling at its core.”

  3. Tafia says:

    Labour targetted its core vote. Period.

    And what should be Labour’s core vote turned in large numbers to UKIP or the Tories because Labour will not offer up the policies that it wants because it’s to busy trying to appeal to middle class professionals, ethnic minorities, unions, public sector workers and pressure groups

    Labour needs to learn that it’s core vote will no longer blindly vote Labour and the days of “I voted Labour, all my children voted Labour, my cat and dog voted Labour and even my granny voted Labour and she’s been dead 10 years” have gone – largely for two reasons; they’ve realised they were taken for granted and the policies on offer are not relevant to their lives.

    So before Labour thinks about widening it’s net, it needs to fix it’s foundations – or as happened in 2010 and last week, if you build a house without solid foundations it collapses in spectacular fashion.

  4. Tafia says:

    “The Conservatives were using their campaign poll findings to send out reams of direct mail.

    Does anyone actually know anyone who reads this junk from any party? Cos I don’t.

  5. Dave Roberts. says:

    All you have to do is spend some time in a Wetherspoons pub and talk to real people. Simples!

  6. John P Reid says:

    Madasafish, Watson running for deputy, a right left ticket, maybe a good idea, but Watsons not the right choice for deputy
    Tom Watson saying we failed to inspire our traditional voters,many who voted Ukip, maybe true, but where does Watson get the idea ,he thinks, they voted
    Ukip, as labour wasn’t left wing enough from

    Tafia is spot on as usual

  7. Steven M says:

    “No-one was duped into voting for the Conservatives, SNP or UKIP, and let’s credit voters with a little more intelligence than claim that they were all swayed by the Murdoch press”

    Rhiannon, what is your evidence for this? Most voters do not follow politics closely at all – especially swing voters. Many make their mind up on the day they cast their vote and much of the time it is a gutfeel thing and influenced heavily by what they read in the tabloids in the days leading up to the election. This is why Murdoch has been so heavily coveted by every leader since Thatcher. Its because the Sun has the biggest readership and the readers do what they are told. Here is a good example:

  8. Steven M says:

    John Reid, Tom Watson is 100% correct. These ex-Labour voters were conned into voting UKIP because UKIP presented themselves as the “Peoples Party” with a handful of token “left-wing” policies such as no hospital parking charges and scrapping the Work Capability Assessments. They were clever not to present themselves as a right-wing party although they obviously are.

  9. John P Reid says:

    Conned Stevem?, do you really think, labour giving up on the working class in the private sector, and not interested in local issues,rather than the Westminster biubble of inward self looking ,career politicians,talking about islamaphobia laws, discrimination is equality,mansion tax ,really was why we didn’t win

    As for conned, telling the public they were wrong not to vote for us, Tony Benn said that after 1983′ didn’t exactly help us win in 1987′ did it

  10. John P Reid says:

    StvenM, half sun readers voted Labour during Thatchers time,although, they had the paper to influence, and yes people did make up their mind polling day, from what I’ve heard those last minute Tory voters were going to vote Libdems, or Ukip, that’s why both of those parties polling just fell by polling day,

    Courting the Sun doesn’t mean one gets it, michaelHpward a john amatory both wooed the Sun in 1997 , 2005 and the Sun/news of the world had given up on labour by 2005

    The Sun didn’t win it for Cameron in 2010′ there’s more to the media than the sun, their readers get it everywhere,

  11. Tafia says:

    Who most voters vote for is determined purely by 2 or 3 issues and how they affect them or their immediate family directly in their day-to-day lives.

    Most of what politicians say is inconsequential rubbish to most voters.

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